Being John Malkovich (1999) - Of all the philosophical questions, no one has bothered to find an answer to what it is like to be John Malkovich. Is it because only he can know that, or have we missed something? Apparently, there is a tiny door on a specific floor in a specific office building that takes you to Malkovich's mind for a short period of time. From there, you get to see everything from his point of view, and if you are a really skilled ventriloquist, you can even control him.
I swear that of all the premises you could come up with, this has to be one of the stranger ones. The fact that there just so happens to be a door like this, and you are actually entering the mind of a real actor, and said actor is actually playing himself in the movie... I mean... how do you even come up with something like that? Not to mention the fact that upon discovery, almost every character in the film wants to exploit the door's powers for personal gain. It is actually pretty clever this way, because it feels like a satire on how celebrities get exploited in real life.
That being said, it has a few problems. The biggest one for me is that it expects a little too much from you. You are expected to simply accept the fact that there is a door to the mind of one of Hollywood's greatest actors still working today. It is a fun and unique story, and they do pull it off well enough, but the story is so strange, off-kilter and - amazingly enough - complicated that it could confuse people. However, this can be easily ignored if you have an appreciation for the surreal, and if you discover the satirical implications, I can somewhat guarantee you will appreciate it to some degree.
All in all; it is a good movie, if a bit too strange for it's own good.
It gets a 3/5.
Adaptation (2002) - Here's a REALLY weird specimen, and I am afraid that your mind would blow up if I tried to tell you why. It is not the movie itself that is weird, but it is the setting; a movie that takes place during the FILMING of "Being John Malkovich"... yeah, wrap your head around that.
In other words, it is a B-story concerning the writer of that movie: Charlie Kaufman. However, it is not a documentary; it is an actual fictional movie where Nicolas Cage plays the role of Kaufman, who tries to write a script for an adaptation of the book The Orchid Thief. Again, it is a unique and fun idea, but I simply must ask why and how this came to be? Who the hell is Charlie Kaufman? Why does this take place during another movie? What's The Orchid Thief?
It's confusing like hell... and I love it! Unlike "Being John Malkovich", this one is more down-to-earth, and it is a simple character drama. If you thought the first movie was a tad too complex for your taste, then this one will probably go down better. After all, this one does not expect too much of you, nor does it's story complicate itself more than it needs to. The main idea of the movie is that Cage tries to get the job done, but his inner weaknesses procrastinates the progress immensely. The book itself is not easy to work with, so that certainly does not help. His personal journey to get the script finished also develops him from a meek background character, to a man who sounds like he actually has a pair.
There is not much else to say about the movie, except that it is good - even better than the first one. This was the movie that made it seem like Jonze finally got a grasp on the moviemaking bit, and the result is really entertaining. To make things even funnier: If you have seen both movies, then you will probably appreciate the small number of cameos and continuity winks.
It gets a 4/5.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009) - A beloved children's book written in the 60's turns into a cinematic feature in the 21 century. In this day and age, that is not a promising sign, since most of the adaptations based on iconic and short children's books had to balance the lack of substance with tired pop culture jokes. Thankfully, because of Spike Jonze, this movie managed to rise above that, and got it's lack of substance balanced out with actual substance.
Before anyone who knows and loves the story jumps down my throat for saying such things, I must defend my position by saying that while the book is a fun read, there is not a whole lot to it. I mean, the book literally starts off in the middle of nothing, and things just proceed from there. The book describes the little boy as disobedient, but we never get a reason as to why. The monsters serve no other purpose but to be there, and then it all just ends with the boy going back home in a boat.
This might have served better as an animated short, not a full feature. However, thanks to some clever writing, they have managed to give the story direction and purpose; the characters have more depth, the story is better paced, and it brings in themes about change, separation, time and adapting. In short: it has a lot more going on than the source material.
I am glad that the movie turned out as well as it did, because it is incredibly beautiful, both in story and execution. The colors have a washed out look that makes a world where giant monsters roam around feel like a believable place, and the monster effects are really impressive. They managed to find a winning aestethic by combining physical costumes with computer animated facial expressions, which adds a level of believability that most films only can hope to achieve.
The story itself is sad, yet sympathetic, and the monsters have a lot of personality to back it up. The thing about it is that I feel most people can identify with this; a young child growing up to find out that the world is a lot less jovial than he or she originally thought. It is a scary and depressing thought that I think most of us have dealt with at least once in our lives, and to see the boy go through it must be heartwrenching.
All in all, this is a fantastic movie, and it comes highly recommended.
It gets a 5/5.
Her (2013) - So, what kind of world are we heading towards, exactly? Because of the increasing development in technology, what are the chances that our relationship to said technology will not develop with it? Case and point; this movie has our main character fall in love with an artificial intelligence-program.
Hey, it's a Spike Jonze-movie. What did you expect?
"Her" is interesting because of this, because it poses a plausible scenario for the distant future. What if technology becomes such a big part of our lives, that we actually start falling in love with it? I mean, it's not that far off, is it? We cannot seem to get enough of our cellphones in this day and age, can we?
As much as this sounds like a creepy and unromantic idea, it is actually really sweet and engaging. Sure, there are aspects that are a tad awkward and weird, but for the most part it feels authentic and heartwarming. It is really original too, because it uses it's premise as a thesis on our perceptions on relationships, the problems they pose and on what a healthy/unhealthy relationship looks like. In fact, one might argue that the point when the A.I. becomes so advanced that it knows every single facet about you can come off as stalkerish to some. It did not to me, and it should not do the same to you, because the romance between these two is genuinely delightful.
There is not much else to say about the movie besides: "go see it". While it might not be as good as "Where the Wild Things Are", it is still a movie worth watching.
It gets a 4/5.
Listening to: Game Grumps